Raed Filotimo

My heart was beating strangely when we reached the field of grass and white tulips. It was late afternoon; the sun was already setting behind the mountains when I decided to lie on the grass.

Nicholas told me it was a sin to bend the stalks and white tulips, but I did not care. God made these creations for people to rest with when they are tired.

''Let's stop here for a while! We've been walking for hours!'' I reprimanded, sighing heavily. The grass and petals were cold in my back but more, I felt the comfort I longed for.

Nicholas was still standing. The longer I stared at his back, the clearer my vision became, as though he became the focal subject of a camera while the distant plateau turned a total blur.

He seemed taller than he really was. He wore a white button-down folded up to his elbow, and there I saw his scar, a blemish on his tanned skin. He told me he had an accident, and the surgeon needed to stitch the wound or else he would lose his arm. And that's all I knew about him.

Nicholas was a stranger, but I felt close to him. Despite being a four-month-mystery, I felt like I'd known him for a long time already. Maybe, I just wished things were like that when they weren’t really? I still wonder.

We were stuck on an island called Spratlys. Nicholas said our plane sank to the bottom of Pacific Ocean, and that we were the only ones to survive the storm that wrecked our flight.

Every day and every night, we waited for a plane to pass by or a fish courier to find us and transport us home. But the pearl of hope never came. It was as though we were situated outside the boundary of the world, in a lost abyss where there was only two of us; fishing in the sea, cooking the fish in the fire we made with the wood we tcollected from the forest and sleeping under the altar of stars at night.

I had become so used to it that I never wanted to return home. And I secretly prayed it would not come tomorrow. I felt at home already with Nicholas, I felt no  need to wish for anything more.

The wind whooshed past swiftly. As Nicholas looked down at me, his hair, that obscured his eyes, danced in the breeze for a second. In that second, I caught the colors of Andromeda in his eyes. I found myself pondering if God had made it possible for a galaxy to be trapped inside someone's eyes because his had it. He had a galaxy whenever I looked at him.

''We are almost there,'' he said, walking towards me. His face was so gentle that I couldn't recognize his anger or bliss. He was always just kind enough to cause somersaults in my stomach.

''Get up.'' He offered a hand. I smirked and shook my head.

''I want to sleep. Maybe for ten minutes. Could you wait?''

He did not say anything, but his silence ringed a yes to me.

Later, I felt him beside me. The fabric of his clothes touched my skin. As he moved closer, I felt his warmth.

I opened my eyes and saw him watching the orange sky. There was a flock of Palomas, whose wings had become a black outline,  disappearing as they ventured near the temple of clouds.

''Where are we going?'' I tilted my body towards him. ''Do you want to play hide and seek there?'' I chuckled.

He did not answer. I heard his slow breath, and suddenly, he titled his body, too. Our gazes pierced each other's soul. Our bodies, facing one another for the first time. White tulips in between us. One layer. One layer and we could kiss if someone would move forward.

My mind now fully recognized why my heart had been beating strangely ever since we set off on this field. It wasn’t because of the place, it was because of him.

He was a mystery, like his eyes. I wondered what he thought of me but I never dared to ask. I was afraid of his answers, and like him, I buried the thought; it would stay a mystery too.

''Don't move,'' he whispered, and I opened my eyes. The kiss did not come, and I hated how it crushed me for a moment.

He stretched his arm behind me and I heard the crackle of a stick breaking. Gently, he lay on his back again, and lifted the rose towards the sky.

''How come there's a rose here?'' I asked, staring intently at it.

''It was here all this time,'' he said softly. ''The wolf thought it was far.''

''The wolf?'' I was skeptical. I did not know his metaphors or how to read between his lines.

''The wolf told me to find a rose in the Avalon. It was another plain of white tulips beside the Spratlys.''

''There's another island?''

He nodded.

''Why are we going there?''

Nicholas placed the rose on his chest and closed his eyes.

''To get this rose. It was the only one here. God made it.''

I became more confused. I wanted to ask more about the rose but I knew I could ask him later. So, I lay back again watched the heavens like he did, as if lost in the well of thoughts.

We were silent. The shadows of mountains became darker as the sun was sunk lower The clouds that were once pure, blended in the hues of dark blue.

He stood and dusted the dirt off his khaki shorts. He looked down at me and offered a hand. We were lying for more time than what I asked for, so I finally grabbed his hand. And we just stood, looking at each other. Even in fading light, I could see his shadow, tall against mine.

He handed me the rose. ''Could you do me a favor?''

I took the rose and looked up at him. ''What kind?''

''Close your eyes,'' he said.

''Why? What for?''

''Just close them.''

I was hesitant to oblige but the worlds in his eyes made me trust him. He was hypnotic. A slumber. He was a home. A safe haven. He felt distant but I ignored it because his physical image was close to me. He was alive, and I never cared about not being close to his heart. I was fine near his voice. I was fine with him in this form.

The night wind bloomed at my cheeks but his lips . . . his lips triggered warmth against mine. And as we kissed, the tears wrote the question I wanted to ask. It dripped on the side of my lips — finally, I asked him.

''Did you love me?''

Everything was starting to fade into darkness. Everything became inaudible as if I was dying.

He wiped my tears off and gave me a weak smile.

''I always did.'’

Then I woke up, quietly sobbing while tracing the soft petals of the rose, resting on top of my heart.

"She's awake!" cried someone.

I was awoken . . .

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